As each day passes, more and more businesses are thinking about how they will bring their employees back to the office. These offices, however, are ghost towns of a pre-pandemic area. We know space needs to look and function differently, but nobody is 100% sure what that means or how we get there.
Creating spaces that work for the new ways we work will take planning, re-thinking, testing, and time. OpenSquare’s clients and partners are delving deep and exploring the possibilities for this new workspace. At the WorkBetter Lab, we’ve been taking our clients and partners through an environment we’ve thoughtfully planned around new workspace needs. We are re-thinking what space may look like while maximizing our use of current assets. Over time, the space is being re-created as we learn more about what people need to return to a solution that’s not just different –– but one that’s better.
As we bring our partners through the space, they’ve been curious about the tools and solutions that might entice teams back into the office. Even before the pandemic, we’ve been discussing how the traditional office should change. The same goes for many companies. Those discussions have accelerated changing some “no-change” thinkers into “change everything” thinkers. Here are some of the themes and ideas that have emerged.
Flexible Space with Flexible Use
The WorkBetter Lab was created in a space that was once a law firm using a traditional office layout. With minimal removal of walls, large private offices have been turned into multi-use spaces. Former conference rooms are now multi-person respite spaces and cozy spaces where employees can recharge and reset.
Among the highlights for people touring the Lab is the “Bungalow–– a space where a small team could camp out all day and change modes of work (from focus work to collaborative work).
Additionally, we designed a more open office space that could serve as a place where in-person teams could meet and collaborate with multiple whiteboards––and with technology to bring remote workers into the space. The desks from the Steelcase Flex collection are height adjustable and can be easily moved to a configuration where teams are face to face or separate with just a few feet of space between them and privacy screens for more heads-down time. Combined with the flexible mobile power, it takes only minutes to rearrange the space. The result: teams haven’t lost the ability to collaborate, but they have gained the ability to control the environment – something previously difficult in in open office concepts. As one client put it, “You’ve packed a lot into a small space, but it doesn’t feel small.”
Braiding Remote and In-person experience (A technology story)
When it comes to office technology in the new workspace, clients aren’t looking for a traditional technology partner. CEOs want technology to facilitate more equity, so remote and the in-person employees have as close to the same experiences as possible.
For those touring the Lab, technology started to really bring the future workspace into focus, specifically the Katai camera. This tiny camera takes the concept of working remotely to a new level. The camera’s capabilities allow for those working remotely to really feel like they are part of any in-office meeting, recognizing mouth movements and listening for sound to adjust to the meeting participants in real-time.
When mounted to a monitor, one version of this camera can follow people as they move through the space, picking up on who is talking, so the direction of the view changes. Another version sits in the center of a table, so remote participants can experience the meeting as if they’re sitting at the table. This is accomplished via “braiding” –– a process by which the camera’s technology stitches images together on screen.
The goal with technology is to put remote and in-person workers on the same footing. Raising one’s hand on a zoom call doesn’t give employees the same opportunity as someone in the room who can simply speak up. Acknowledging the differences and creating equity among users isn’t just effective. It should be a critical consideration when returning to the office.
For most businesses, technology is a big investment. But rethinking the entire technology approach can make solutions more affordable. For example, not every conference room or meeting room needs technology all the time. Many of us may remember a time in grade school when a lucky student was chosen to go to the AV room to pick up a tv or a projector and bring it back to the classroom. Shared technology among several classrooms reduced the cost to the school and allowed classrooms to use it when needed. The WorkBetter Lab has incorporated this concept with a Microsoft Surface Hub on a Steelcase Roam Cart and camera. More than just a screen on wheels, the cart has a battery back-up allowing users to place it anywhere in a space, not just next to a wall with a plug. And can be quickly moved from any room in the office by one person.
Research show that up to 40% of all people who have been fully remote during the pandemic want to continue working from home. A vast majority have even stated they would leave their job rather than return to the office. Creating a strong culture with these people will be critical to attracting, and more importantly, retaining talent.
We’ve all been through a massive cultural shift and bringing company culture to those not in the office will require continued shifting of how we interact and encourage inclusiveness. Technology will help. Offering spaces that people desire to be in and investing in home office solutions is critical.
A continuing story
“There is something about this space that goes beyond the furniture,” one client told us. And that about sums it up. The WorkBetter Lab will be open for a few months, but our OpenSquare team doesn’t plan on stopping there. We are currently re-designing our OpenSquare showroom in Seattle and Spokane to bring in what we’re learning from the tours at the WorkBetter Lab, so we can continue to re-think office space over time constantly improving and evolving.
If you would like to tour the WorkBetter Lab or learn more about helping your teams manage the transition back to the office, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.